Pistons’ Trey Lyles responds to playing bigger role on road trip

Detroit News
By Steve Kornacki |  Special to The Detroit News

Trey Lyles is draining treys from beyond the arc. The Detroit Pistons’ 6-foot-10 power forward has been playing some center, too, and grabbing big rebounds.

He’s been a valuable player coming off the bench since the start of the season, but his role has intensified on the team’s current five-game road trip that takes Detroit to Portland on Tuesday night.

Lyles has averaged 15 points, 6.3 rebounds and 18 minutes over the first three games in Milwaukee and Los Angeles against the Clippers and Lakers. He’s shooting .567 (17-30) from the field and .467 (7-15) behind the 3-point line in those games.

Opponents are forced to defend his inside-outside game, and that opens things up for Detroit in the half court.

“He’s been great for us,” said Pistons forward Jerami Grant, the team’s leading scorer at 19.7 per game. “Being able to spread the floor, they have to guard him out there. He’s a great shooter, but also a really smart player. You know, which baskets to make, which cuts to make. And on the defensive end he’s great.”

Point guard Killian Hayes added: “Every time I tell Trey, ‘Just shoot the ball. That’s what you do. Any time you catch it, let it fly.’ It started in Milwaukee. He hit a couple of big shots. You know, he’s doing his thing. He’s being aggressive. He’s taking threes, making them. You know, that’s what Trey does.”

Lyles’ eight points and 4.3 rebounds per game this season are right in line with the 7.3 and 4.2 he’s averaged in seven seasons in the NBA. He hasn’t made a big splash in the league since being a No. 12 overall draft pick by the Utah Jazz in 2015 — starting just 103 games —  but has been a solid, dependable player for four franchises.

He was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and moved to Indiana when he was 7. Lyles and Pistons teammates Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph have been teammates on the Canadian national team.

Lyles was a McDonald’s All-American and Indiana’s Mr. Basketball for Arsenal Technical High in Indianapolis, and originally committed to Indiana University before opting for Kentucky coach John Calipari’s deep talent pool.

Lyles played in the Final Four before leaving after his freshman season, and was one of Kentucky’s four lottery picks in 2015. He joined Karl-Anthony Towns (No. 1, Minnesota), Willie Cauley-Stein (No. 6, Sacramento) and Devin Booker (No. 13, Phoenix) — who will be reunited with Lyles Thursday night, when Detroit ends its road trip playing the Suns.

He spent two seasons with the Jazz before they traded him and forward Tyler Lydon to the Denver Nuggets for guard Donovan Mitchell. Lydon’s career was over after 26 games, while Mitchell developed into a two-time All-Star averaging 22.8 points this season for Utah.

Stardom has yet to come for Lyles, 26, but he’s an established contributor with a positive vibe.

During training camp, he tweeted from @TreyLyles: “This The Year #8 @ Detroit, Michigan.” And while closing out last season with the San Antonio Spurs, he tweeted: “Appreciate where you are in your journey!” Then: “Trying year but we still here. Great things coming! The work will always come first.” He also recently tweeted about the fourth annual Thanksgiving Day meal drive he contributes to in Indianapolis along with his high school and another school.

He tends to become a good fit wherever placed, and that includes positions on the court.

Lyles also had to play center with starter Isaiah Stewart serving a two-game suspension from the LeBron James altercation and backup Olynyk out for possibly the rest of the month with a sprained left knee.

“Trey, for what he brings to the table, does a good job at that position,” said Pistons coach Dwane Casey. “I thought Trey had one of his best nights against Milwaukee (19 points, 7 rebounds) — which was difficult to do — but did a good job of staying in front of (Giannis) Antetokounmpo.”

Being a stretch big man makes Lyles quite versatile.

“When Kelly comes back, he’s going to really fit in well at the four (power forward) with his shooting ability,” Casey said after Sunday night’s 110-106 loss to the Lakers. “But even his shooting ability is open at the five (center) because he’s smart and knows how to space, how to create his own shot.

“And he’s a weapon. It kind of started in the Milwaukee game. He started shooting the ball with confidence and conviction. At some point, I said before the game, ‘Our threes are going to start falling and that’s going to help us.’ It’s going to be a huge help. As you can see, when the shots are falling, we have more energy on the defensive end. We had a little pep in the step once we started making shots.”

Trey made 3-of-4 trey attempts against the Lakers, and Detroit hit 13-of-33 (.394) for its second-best shooting percentage behind the arc this season. His first 3-pointer gave Detroit a 24-23 lead on the first shot of the second quarter. He didn’t score again until making the last shot of the third quarter, but his eight points in the fourth helped the Pistons (4-16) cut into a big deficit before losing, 110-106.

Lyles had only three double-digit scoring nights prior to this road trip, but now has three consecutive games with at least 13 points. He’s seizing an opportunity in Detroit by taking the encouragement of his coach and teammates and finding a good groove.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.

Pistons at Trail Blazers

Tipoff: 10 p.m. Tuesday, Moda Center, Portland, Oregon

TV/radio: BSD/950

Outlook: The Pistons (4-16) have lost the first three games of this road trip, and face Portland (10-10 prior to Monday night’s game at Utah), led by guards Damian Lillard (22.0 ppg, 7.9 assists, 3.8 reb.) and CJ McCollum (20.4 ppg, 4.4 assists, 4.4 reb.) and center Jusuf Nuckic (12.0 ppg, 10.9 reb.). The Trail Blazers have first-year coach Chauncey Billups, aka “Mr. Big Shot” when he was the 2004 NBA Finals MVP for the Pistons’ last championship team. Billups scored 15,802 points (15.2 ppg) in 17 NBA seasons and went into broadcasting before spending last season as an assistant coach for Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue. The Pistons retired his No. 1 in 2016.

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